Project Ceiling Breakers - Why do I do this?

Holly Chen
August 30, 2020

Project Ceiling Breakers came out of an urge, rage, sadness, restlessness, and, love.

I always thought of myself as a very rational, pragmatic, even-keeled, analytical person who doesn't get swayed by ‘negative emotions’. It makes sense - growing up in a different country, I was told from very young, by parents and grandparents, don’t get involved in anything political or social, because it’s gonna be futile and even dangerous.

From my career choices - management consulting, product management, growth marketing - all of them analytical, numbers driven, and largely measurable: ‘Look at this chart where our numbers are going up!’ No dispute. The world is simpler when I remain rational and keep things at arms length. Being an immigrant in the US, I haven’t felt a strong sense of ownership, even after living here for 15+ years - I can’t vote anyways, it’s not my country, so whatever happens in the world around me, as long as I keep climbing the ladder and being successful, why would I care?

That was my operating model for all my life. I’ve achieved some level of career success, as the Global Head of Digital Marketing at the fastest growing SaaS company in history, and Head of Growth at the ubiquitous search engine. But when I looked around and up, there were very few people like me at the top - female, Asian, immigrant. Even though I didn’t want to admit, subtly, I started seeing a ceiling.

From the EEOC data, while Asians had become the largest racial cohort of professionals in tech, Asians women were the least likely to become Executives. I was exasperated that in many diversity initiatives, Asians were not even included and were grouped together with white.

Then our world changed in 2020. With the Black Lives Matter movement, I started digging deeper and having conversations. Emotional and difficult conversations. I realized that the issue is deeper and broader. I’m enraged about the systematic oppression Black people experience in our society today. I’m sad when I think about the loneliness and otherness my LGBTQ+ colleagues experienced. Like many other immigrants, I know the fear of losing my visa and not having a home anymore if I lose my job. I realized that the key is not to compare pain, but to unite, work together, and have a stronger voice and strength together against the systematic issues.

I asked myself, what is my role in all of this?

While our society and culture is slowly shifting, what I can directly impact is from where I know best - Corporate America, starting with the technology industry. Racially diverse executives still hold only 16% of total C-suite positions. If we bridge the gap between middle management and executive ranks, we can impact the rest of the C-suite, the board, and the investors. We can impact how we hire, how we promote, and how leadership is defined in our organizations. We can impact how each one of us relate to ourselves and others, start owning our identities and accepting ourselves, and take radical responsibility for our own growth and the growth of others.    

Project Ceiling Breakers was born out of an urge, rage, sadness, restlessness, and it was also born of love. Ultimately, I believe that the world is not something to fight against, but an ally - it knows that change is needed. It’s been yearning for it. It knows that the time is now. The changes happen through us. We are part of the change, just like we’re part of this world that brings us joy, anger, sadness, fear, and creativity.

Through this project, I hope to bring awareness, understanding, empathy, and energy to our inner selves, our organizations, and the world we live in. I want to change this country that I choose to live in where I now call home. I want the people who live around me, with different skin colors from people I grew up with, to be happy and fulfilled. I’m following my heart. I’m doing my part.

What starts as a flight, the impact will last because of love. I’m hopeful.

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